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tv   [untitled]    June 24, 2011 3:00am-3:30am PDT

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see it from everywhere. every butte top, you are going it look down on this desert and see these bold lines coming across the desert and you know that line goes somewhere. you get on it, you stay on it, and it will lead you to what are called great houses, up it 3 acres in size. these great houses are often aligned in a certain way so that at certain times of year, say summer solstice, light comes through certain windows. i have sat in these at different times of the year and watched this light show start at sunrise where lights start appearing on the walls all around me and you realize this is how you tell time out in this landscape. this is the way they did calendars. this is the way they understood the larger sphere, the moving of the heavens, was by setting up structures that could
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receive the light in certain ways. i mean, it's happening everywhere. i was just in salt lake city and i took a walk downtown and i saw a pillar that had been built in the last 4 years that a big block of sandstone that i recognized. it was probably wingate sandstone that had been hauled up there from about 200, 250 miles away, but i noticed in the pillar that was a gap at the bottom and i walked up and looked through the gap and i saw there were some posts in the distance and i looked around and there was a circle around the gap and there were signs around it and then each post a prism in it so that light going through the crack would hit the prism and that light would go to another prism and you would be able to tell the time of year by this object that was built in the last 4 years. and i saw this and i thought, what would archeologists think if they encountered this? they would look at this and
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say, what civilization was this? what religion drove them to do this? we keep doing the same things over and over again. many researchers believe these archeo-astronomical sites are very specifically designed where other researchers say it's all coincidence. but not long ago i was up at a place called chimney rock in southwest colorado. and it's over 8,000 feet. and you are up at the southern end ftd rocky mountains and there is this scarp of rock that rises up probably about a thousand feet out of a valley floor and right at the tip of this scarp there are two twin towers of rock. if you get to a certain place on top of this very narrow butte, you can see between
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these twin towers and there happens to be a great house built between these two towers and every 18.6 years when the moon goes into its northernmost point on the horizon, it rises between those two towers. i was there at the beginning of the last 18.6 year cycle and we stood up there, probably 20 of us, researchers, forest service people, all gathered at the same spot with cameras and huddled -- it was late december at 8,000 feet and we were all watching this gap. and somebody had done very intricate work to figure out exactly where you need to stand to see the light at exactly the right time. and as we were all gathered up there, i remember this older archeo-astronomer said it's too bad this isn't celebrated any more. this is such a momentous occasion, the moon finally coming up between the gap and
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nobody celebrates it. i looked at him as we were all bundled together and thought, do you not notice all of us here pressed to the edge watching this one gap just to see a breach of light come through the spot? if this isn't celebrating this moment, i don't know what is, a bunch of researchers coming from all over the country, in fact, all over the world for this event. this is probably what happened a thousand years ago. i imagined a man very much like the one who had figured out where we needed to stand at what time, or perhaps it was a woman, it was someone who came up and checked this site every day until he sent out the word saying, okay, on this particular day you can put on your feathers and everybody get your stuff, we're going up and it's going to happen. because as the moon was rising i could see he was nervous, pacing back and forth because he wasn't sure if he was exactly right.
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you use spherical trigonometry to figure it out and he was pacing back and forth and i could see he was going through his numbers going, okay, a lot of people came for this, am i right about this? and i thought about these fierce-looking mayan dudes who came out of chaco and the great house, the tree rings taken out of it, show it was constructed every 18.6 years. every time the moon came through the gab, they did massive construction for it. so you know it was the time and you know there was somebody pacing up there just checking whatever watch he had, looking at that gap and thinking, i hope this is the day. and it was the day. we stood there and waited and
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he said first light, we all looked and we couldn't see it. he had a better eye, he had been watching this much longer than us. but then we started to see the glow. and then the orb of the moon rose into this narrow gap between two twin towers looking north into the rocky mountains. and as that happened, i turned around and as the south -- and i see out of the rocky mountains, i could see a gap where the piedro river flows south and through that gap i could see the desert of northern new mexico and just over the horizon, just about 120 miles away, is chaco canyon, the largest anastazi site in the southwest, just over the horizon. and in between these towers and chaco canyon there are fire signal stations up on top of buttes. every fire signal station is in view of two other signal stations. each of those, four, on and on
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and on so that a fire would be lit at one spot and everybody would know, you could send messages for hundreds of miles. you could send messages over mountain ranges. there are fire signals all over the four corners, rows and fire signals. i talked to the guy who first discovered these signals and he was just out there mapping archeological sites with a crew in the 70's and he kept coming across these hills that had some kind of -- a little bit of architecture but they couldn't tell what they were. and they decided they are just not going to put them in the reports because they didn't have a name for these until he decided to go up to one and he dug into it and there he found a carved stone bowl with a carved stone lid set into it. and he opened it up and it was full of pieces of turquoise and that's when he looked around and thought, wait a minute, there's something going on around here. he started mapping them all, he
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started marking them all on his map until he realized, these are all visual relays. there's a network, a communication network, of some sort. or maybe it was when the moon reached the gap they lit the fire so the signal went out so everybody across the colorado plateau would know the needle has been threaded. and i imagine that day people in chaco canyon all standing there, facing north, looking at a fire tower that would have delivered a message down into the canyon. i imagined people all over the four corners all facing the same direction at the same moment, maybe this didn't happen. everything is conjecture out there, but you know something was going on. how much do you want to know? when i saw that granary up in the cliff, i wanted to know what was inside of it.
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i thought i could easily break the seal around this stone. i had a good knife with me. it would be very easy to cut a square around it and just pop that stone out and i would see what's inside of a granary, what these people left behind. it was something for their survival, something that they could return to, something very important. i spent years going through museum collections and opening up drawers in the basement of the peabody and the american museum of natural history where you are going through masses of artifacts, the striking black on white pottery of the anastazi, what is in this place? but the granary was not mine to open, it was left by other people, a stockpile waiting for their return. as i understand more of the
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anastazi, it is hard to say they ever truly vanished. the more i track them, it more it seems they are right in front of me until i can feel body heat in their foot steps. it is not unthinkable that somebody might return to this granary, maybe a century from now, relieved to find a sign of ancestry deep in this river gorge. i climbed down to this granary and laid my hand on its stone, feeling the grit of sand and the hardness of rock. a person could be found here in a thousand years, a person kneeling in the moment of decision. i climbed out and went back to my career, the obsidian night closing around me. i climbed into the canoe and swept the paddle across the water, setting a wake across the mirror of stars.
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i'd like to show you some images from this place. this place being the southwest where i have spent my entire life. i don't know how far i've walked out there. i don't know how many pairs of boots that i've gone through where i've taken needles and dental floss and sewed the leather back together. i don't know how long i've been walking out there. and miles don't matter, days don't matter. it all adds up into this, into movement, into walking through the labyrinth that's opened up into the ground. finding places, places to camp behind cliffs that have fallen, finding sanctuary, places where the wind won't touch you,
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places that are eroded out of the earth like bones. everything is revealed in the desert. there are no questions out there. there's just ground, solid ground, opened layer after layer after layer. some people come back from, say, the edge of the grand canyon and they say it makes them feel small. i understand that but i think it may be a misconception. it may be that it's not a landscape that makes you feel small, it's a landscape that gets rid of your sense of scale entirely because there have been so many times out there in the deep of winter camping for week after week in the open desert where at night it gets down to 10 below or 15 below zero and there's nothing in your life but the sky and the stars. and you are looking up into the sky and you think, i could just
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stand and walk into stars. i could become a giant. there are times in the desert when you are not small but you are infinite. you take up everything. there is no boundary between you and it. when i look at the artifacts that the anastazi made, especially the painted black and white, i see that landscape. i see the colorado plateau. this bowl is from american museum of natural history and that's where it is now. that's the storage place. where it was from before is pueblo bonito in chaco canyon where there were rooms filled to the ceiling with bowls stacked within each other, bowls like this. all their designs, you can kind
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of get a glimpse around this. they have this flawless symmetry blending all the way around. it looks like that place. it looks like that landscape. i look into this and i see the sharp edges of the land. i see the way the earth is shaped out there. i see the routes in their vessels. i mean, to understand these, this one came out of a 13th century site in southwest colorado and i would sit with these bowls for hours and hours, drawing them into my sketch book because that was the only way i could really understand the complexity of how they got their symmetries to match up because i could never get them to match up in my drawings. i could never do a 100 percent accurate rendition of these because every line was meaningful, every line meant something about how you paint
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the next line, which is what it's like walking out there, looking for those shapes, looking for water, looking for springs, looking for places where the rain has fallen. it's all the same story out there. there is a 13th century or a 14th century polychrome vessel from below the mugion rim in central arizona. and this is 100 years after the anastazi supposedly disappeared, there's that story about one day this whole civilization just vanished. but if you start following the civilization, you can find where it went. you can find this culture's movement across the land. these images inside this bowl came from vessels that were anastazi. and you can track the movement of styles across the southwest, across centuries. and i look into these and i see
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people from the high desert living down in the pines of central arizona. i see the shapes of their lives still recorded, that the anastazi didn't disappear, they just moved and they carried everything with them. and when they ran into other cultures, they adjusted. they changed the colors of their vessels but they kept the same images, images of a landscape that is worn open, that is controlled by basic elements, by wind, by water, by gravity. see the shape of the world where i have spent my life, where i have been walking, looking for these stories. and just to give you a sense of scale here, that's me at the bottom of that pillar. and that pillar is just some old wall and that's all that's left of it, some memory of a canyon. every place out there is a
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memory, a memory of water, a memory of humans. most of those vessels that i just showed you -- they all came from museums. here is one that i found a few years ago, a seed jar in utah underneath a ledge. and i didn't move it from the spot. in fact, the sand had just been barely swept away to show the face of it, but it's still there. it's still under that ledge. i hope. i'd like to take you on a route and show you a way down to one of these artifacts. now, a lot of people look across canyon land, say, in southeast utah where this picture is, and it's not really
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clear how you get around, how you get from place to place. but if you know this place well enough you know right over this lip of white sandstone, if you go right over the ledge and hang your foot over this side, you can't see it but you can feel it with the tip of your foot, there's a little toe hold down there, then if you get on that toe hold you drop your other foot down and there's another toe hold. it happens a thousand years ago somebody carved just a series of toe holds down this rock face. and you climb down those and they lead to a ledge and the ledge wraps around underneath here and it drops down into another spot that you go through a saddle and around to the other side and through another saddle and down and around. it's this circuitous route that's constantly carrying you down deeper and deeper and this is the landscape is just covered with these. i don't take maps out there any more out into this place because it's all memory.
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this place is the map. i went down with my wife, reagan, and we went down a fairly large cliff face but one that had some good ledges on it so the only reason to have rope is to lower your pack. but we didn't get all the way down before sunset, so we set a camp out on the face. and it was the most spectacular camp i think i've ever had in my life. that's my spot. and it was just this narrow ledge. i had a thermorest with me and it wasn't as wide as the thermorest so i had to put a rock under the thermorest for my head and reagan slept on top
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of me. nights are so solid, you don't move all night. just to get our stuff out to that ledge, you couldn't actually go with a pack. you had to take your pack off because there is a drop. you kind of have to jump from left to right. so you come up against the wall, you put your foot around and you do that. and then we unloaded our packs piece by piece and then handed each piece across so that then we could set our camp on the ledge and in the morning, we continued down the face lowering our packs until you get down to the next level. and the next level falls out from itself. the ground constantly opening up. you can feel the wind and the water opening the earth as if there was no bottom to this, constantly finding the next route it take you from ledge to ledge to ledge, down through cracks and narrows, chimneys leading down step by step.
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until you get to this arch. it's a small arch, it's only about this tall. the photograph is a little -- well, size, scale dimension, they all kind of leave out there. right inside of this arch way there is a bunch of broken pottery so you know this was a used route a thousand years ago. and the arch leads down into a canyon that opens up and you go up a side canyon into this little alcove where a piece of the ceiling has fallen just slightly. and i found this place. the first time i found this was on the 27th day of a back pack and i got up to this spot and i took my hat off and i stuck my head in the crack, which is something that i do frequently out there, because i know every once in a while you're going it see something back inside one
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of these cracks. and back in this crack there was a basket about 1500 years old that had been turned upside down so it wouldn't collect anything and it was way back down in the crack so that no light or wind would touch it. and it was in perfect condition. you could put it on your kitchen table. you could put apples in it. and as far as i know, it's still there except for that piece which we went on this trip to collect a piece for radio carbon dating, a federal archeologist in southern utah had asked us to pick up one piece of it to bring out. so that part of the basket is missing. there are artifacts everywhere. they stand out. this arrowhead here is maybe
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just under half an inch long, tiny little piece made out of jasper in some canyon someplace. there are larger objects. there are cliff dwellings that you find up in the alcoves. this is out on the navajo reservation in southern utah. this is part of a structure that's about, i'd say, 300 rooms running along the back side of this canyon, a little village, small city, something. artifacts everywhere. one of the walls had fallen out, revealing the floor that had been packed in there, hundreds of years of people using the same floor just pushing down the dirt so that there are pieces of woven -- of braided string sticking out of the floor everywhere and arrowheads and broken pottery and i realized when i came up
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against the stack of this trash pile i put my head against it and looked along it. i could see it was covered with hair. people in that room had been combing their hair for hundreds of years and it had been landing on the floor. and then new floors are built on top of that and new floors and i ran my hand across, just barely across, the front of this and i could feel the hair of people who had been there and i was there with a navajo guy that i know who just was creeped out by this. because there's a certain heavy taboo in navaho culture about death and he said after we left this cliff dwelling, he said, i need a ceremony. too much death. you can't touch that much death, he said. but i'm from a different culture where we roll around in
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death, where we fill museums with death. this skull is from about a 5-year-old. and i found it because i thought it was a goerd. i saw the back side of it and it still had scalp on it and i thought, oh, a whole goerd. i reached down and picked it up and turned it around and had this face looking at me, which is a very odd thing. maybe i need a ceremony. these routes that i am following have led me all over the place. the one i am about to tell you about didn't actually occur in house of rain. house of rain was getting too large, too many stories, but i was looking at how shells get traded. there are shell trade routes all over the southwest. shell was a primary material for making jewelry, for using in burials, and you had to walk
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600 miles to get it, down to the sea of cortez, the water that's in between baja and the main land of mexico. and i tracked routes all the way down to the border over years and then across the mexican border into sonora and then it a place called penacate and then a dune, 5,000 square miles of sand dunes, a beautiful landscape, but no water out there. but pottery, broken pottery all over in certain places and pieces of shell left behind where you could see that the people were crossing these dunes to the sea and picking up shell and then crossing back and then moving it up to phoenix and then from phoenix distributing it throughout the rest of the southwest. the first trip i took out there, we hit this mountain range right at the edge of the
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dunes. and we were carrying, i don't know, on that trip we were maybe carrying 80 or 90 pounds of water and moving it out to the sand and then we'd drop a cache and then go back and get more water and drop a cache. we were trying to get to the sea of cortez, that was one of the things on our mind, but this landscape, it starts turning your mind inward or outward or it gets hard to tell which way it turns it because it's a psychological place. there's no end to your horizons. the sky is infinite, the sand is infinite. it's hard to keep your focus because you are constantly using peripheral vision looking all around you. it doesn't matter which way you walk after a while, you are just wandering. and so on the first trip out there, we didn't get to the sea because we just ended up wandering. it happens out there. you have a plan but the
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landscape becomes beautiful in a way that you weren't expecting and you start disappearing into it. you start forgetting why you are going in one direction. you start thinking, no, i just want to see that shadow over there and spend time there and then i want to see the next shadow and the next. it took 3 trips actually before we got to the sea. and all over at the edges of the dunes and sometimes even out in the middle of the dunes where you get into a deep hole, you will find a broken ceramic ojalla, you will find a sea shell that somebody carried in there, you will pick up the shell going what were you doing out here, why were you walking in this place, were you seeing it the same way i'm seeing it? were you floating like a ghost or were you trudging and
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swimming and dragging yourself? what were you doing out here? on the last trip out, we did a lot of night walking. and we walked barefoot for the most part because it's much easier than walking in boots and it's just nice to walk barefoot for days and days at a time. on that trip in particular there were a lot of sidewinders out in the dunes which made for an interesting element because the previous trip there had been snakes but not so many. you would wake up in the morning and there would be these elegant sidewinder tracks everywhere. the guy who dropped us off has the proclivity for picking up dangerous animals. i don't recommend it. it was kind of a terrifying experience to have somebody pick up a rattlesnake and go look at it, look at it, and put it right in your face and you are going, no, no, no thanks especially when he was the one